Mailbag: FSU lucky to be No. 3, TCU over Baylor, Heisman & more

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I still don’t think the selection committee should be publishing weekly rankings.

But I do think they make for good Mailbag fodder.

Stewart, I just lost all respect for the CFP committee. Regardless of everything else, wins and losses are the MOST important. That’s why we play the game, to win. Oregon has NOT won all of its games. What is the committee looking at? Oh yeah, one-third of the committee are Pac-12 people. You are diminishing the game if you don’t honor winning.

— Bret, Tallahassee

Ah yes, here we go. The committee has West Coast bias! Frankly I’m surprised the conspiracy theories didn’t start sooner.

I was surprised the committee dinged Florida State, but I’ve got no problem with it. If going undefeated is the only thing that matters then Marshall should be in the top three. And everyone should immediately dump all decent non-conference opponents from their future schedules. Just win, baby! I applaud the committee for looking a little deeper, though I do find it odd that a team that lost at home to an inferior team has become its poster child for one’s resume trumping the loss column.

But if you’re being honest (and if you’re not from Tallahassee), wouldn’t you pick Oregon to beat the ‘Noles if they were playing on a neutral field tomorrow? I don’t know how you couldn’t. The Ducks have now repeatedly blown quality opponents off the field whereas FSU struggles to put them away. Marcus Mariota is playing at a higher level than recent interception machine Jameis Winston. And Oregon plays in a much tougher conference. It actually makes perfect sense for the Ducks to be ahead of the ‘Noles, though you could probably make the same case for TCU, Alabama and Arizona State. It’s unclear to me why Oregon, but only Oregon, earned this favored status.

FSU deserves credit for being 9-0 this late in the season, but any number of objective metrics don’t believe the ‘Noles are a top-two team. If they were, they’d be more than a two-point favorite against unranked Miami this week. Vegas power polls have FSU ranked fifth. The ‘Noles are ninth in Football Outsiders’ efficiency ratings. Sagarin has them 14th. So it’s not a case of the committee disrespecting the importance of being undefeated. If anything the committee is rewarding FSU more than it should be for being undefeated. But that’s in part because of 70-plus years of poll history in which undefeated was the end-all, be-all. It’s going to be baby steps before the committee does anything more radical than it did.

I am not a TCU or a Baylor supporter. With that out of the way, how in the name of Beano Cook is TCU ranked three spots higher than Baylor? All I keep hearing is Baylor’s pathetic non-conference schedule ranks them lower. I believe comparing schedules is useful when picking between teams that have not played each other. But TCU and Baylor HAVE played each other and Baylor WON. I know Baylor is better because they BEAT TCU, head to head! What am I missing? Better yet, what is the committee missing?

— Scott Saxton, Windsor Ontario


The committee is basically looking at things in a diametrically opposite way. You’re saying schedule strength should be a de facto tiebreaker if two teams don’t have a head-to-head result between them. The committee is saying that head-to-head is a de facto tiebreaker, though only if the teams’ schedule strengths are comparable. Mind you, nowhere in the CFP’s official protocol does it say head-to-head is intended for that purpose. It’s listed as an “obvious factor” the committee will emphasize, along with “win-loss records, strength of schedule, conference championships won … and results against common opponents.” So while I don’t agree with the committee apparently making up a new rule on the fly, I do agree that head-to-head should not automatically trump a team’s entire body of work.

Mind you, my view has changed on this subject. In 2008, I was at the head of the pack screaming bloody murder when Oklahoma finished above Texas in the BCS standings. But when we did the media mock selection last month using the ’08 season, looking at the teams’ schedules and statistics side by side, OU was the obvious choice. But this is where the process gets a little bit dicey.

As for TCU-Baylor, I don’t believe a three-point road loss should be the lone determining factor when comparing two teams that will play 11 other games. It would also be nice to see the committee send a message about the importance of out-of-conference scheduling (which Baylor currently flouts). But the fact is by season’s end the teams’ resumes will be nearly identical. They will differ by only one game — TCU’s playing Minnesota whereas Baylor played Buffalo. I assume at that point, if they’re both 11-1, the Bears will pass the Frogs if they haven’t already.

Stewart, with the SEC seemingly cannibalizing itself out of two playoff teams there is still hope for a lot of teams. One team that doesn’t seem to get much mention is Nebraska. If the Huskers win out, I would think they would be hard to pass up. They seem to be the biggest dark-horse candidate out there, or do you feel there are others deserving mention?

— Foster, Wilmington, North Carolina


Well the committee doesn’t seem to agree, strangely dropping the 8-1 Huskers from 13th to 16th off their bye week. Nebraska’s best win to this point was against currently unranked Miami, which would admittedly gain significant value if the ‘Canes knock off Florida State this week. If not, No. 20 Wisconsin this week might be Nebraska’s lone chance to beat a ranked foe before the Big Ten title game, where, obviously, knocking off possibly 11-1 Ohio State would be a huge coup. But that’s still a pretty thin resume compared to a one-loss SEC, Pac-12 or Big 12 team and even most two-loss SEC West teams. Basically, it really needs Miami to beat FSU this week.

As for other candidates, no one’s talking about UCLA, having written off the Bruins back when they lost consecutive home games to Utah (30-28) and Oregon (42-30). But UCLA, now 8-2, quietly soared from 18th to 11th in the committee’s rankings this week and, following a bye week, will close out with USC and Stanford. If the Bruins win both games and if Arizona beats Arizona State, they’d go to the Pac-12 title game for a rematch with the Ducks. If UCLA pulls that off, too, it’d be the 11-2 champion of the nation’s deepest conference with wins over two current top-six teams, Oregon and ASU, plus top-15 Arizona, and decent non-conference wins over Texas and 6-3 Memphis. It’s probably not enough to usurp a one-loss power champ, but there’s going to be more carnage.

Stewart, in your Forward Pass article this week, you make the argument that an 11-2 SEC West team is more deserving than Ohio State because of its tough schedule, while Ohio State is playing teams like Minnesota, who you mention lost to Illinois. Then later in the same article when you compare TCU and Baylor, you say TCU has a tougher schedule because of … wait for it … 7-2 Minnesota! Let me be the first to say #Big12bias.

— Mo, Pittsburgh

How many exclamation points does that get?

Stewart, I find this year’s Heisman race puzzling. I try to watch as many games as I can and it’s clear to me, both statistically and by way of the eye test, that Marcus Mariota is the best player in the country. But when I watch other coverage, I keep hearing about Dak Prescott as the frontrunner. While Dak is a fun player to watch, he’s not a "special" player like Mariota is and like Heisman winners should be. My question is this, should the Heisman trophy be given to the best player in college football or the best player on the best team?

— Kirk Carpenter, location unknown


You may see an individual pundit here or there who favors Prescott, as his or her prerogative, but right now Mariota is No. 1 on every single Internet Watch List you can find. As he should be. Just comparing the two, Mariota has a much higher passer rating (184.56 to 158.47), higher completion percentage (67.1 to 61.1), higher yards-per-attempt (10.0 to 9.3), more touchdowns (29 to 18) and fewer interceptions (2 to 7). Prescott’s edge is in rushing yards (779 to 524) and rushing TDs (11 to 8). And I’d contend Mariota is doing more with less. His offensive line is continually banged up. His receivers aren’t particularly special. Prescott’s got a solid, veteran O-line in front of him, Josh Robinson behind him and an extremely deep group of receivers led by monstrous De’Runnya Wilson.

But wins and losses do come into play, primarily because they provide for so-called Heisman moments. If Mississippi State goes into Tuscaloosa and beats Alabama this week, you’re going to see a wave of support behind Prescott. Mariota’s led his share of big wins, most notably Michigan State, at UCLA and at Utah last week, but nothing like that. Don’t sell Prescott short by giving him the “best player on the best team” tag. He’s a fantastic player. But for that matter, so are Melvin Gordon, Amari Cooper and a host of others.

But Mariota to me is on a whole other level in terms of his consistency, his accuracy and repeated knack for making big plays. Barring an implosion down the stretch, he’ll remain the most outstanding player in my mind.

I sent this same e-mail three weeks ago but I’ll try again….Bob Stoops can’t win a meaningful, big game…try and refute this…go!

— Chris, location unknown

That’s admittedly getting harder to refute. But check back again next season.

If Florida makes it to a January 1 bowl as you project, will that be enough to save Will Muschamp’s job?

— Gerry Swider, Sherman Oaks, California

This is where the new bowl system is going to take some getting used to. The “January 1” bowl you’re referring to, the Outback Bowl, is now part of a pool that includes everyone from the SEC’s No. 3 team to its No. 8 team (which is really No. 5 to 10 with my current projection of three SEC teams pulled up to the Big Six bowls.) I placed Florida there because it would presumably sell a lot of tickets in Tampa, but I could have just as easily placed the Gators in the Music City or Belk bowls, part of the same pool. I know. It’s confusing. Fortunately there’s a book you can read that explains all of this in detail (and makes a few jokes along the way).


Muschamp can save his job by beating Florida State, plain and simple. Short of that, if he beats South Carolina and Eastern Kentucky to get to 7-3 and is at least competitive with the ‘Noles, he may get a reprieve. AD Jeremy Foley clearly doesn’t want to fire him unless the situation is unsalvageable, which it will be if he loses to Steve Spurrier’s 4-5 Gamecocks this week.

Here’s a wild potential wrinkle: Florida can still win the SEC East. Seriously. If the Gators win Saturday, they’ll finish 5-3 in the conference. If Auburn beats Georgia, the Dawgs will be 5-3, too. And I fully expect Missouri, currently 4-1, to lose at least two of its last three at Texas A&M, at Tennessee and vs. Arkansas. If one of those two comes to the Vols, Florida would have the best divisional record of the three and win the tiebreaker.

Imagine if Florida finishes 7-4, losing 45-14 to FSU, but then turns around and plays in the SEC championship game? Then what would Foley do?

Stewart, One of the most bizarre plays of the week (and season) was Utah receiver Kaelin Clay’s early celebration fumble leading to a touchdown return for Oregon. But replays clearly showed Oregon’s Erick Dargan run out of the end zone, then turned around to be the first to pick the ball up. Shouldn’t this have negated the Oregon touchdown, since a player who stepped out of bounds (without being forced out) can’t be the first to touch the ball once it re-enters the playing field?

— Kevin, Southern California

One of the advantages of watching games from the FOX studios on a Saturday is Mike Pereira is right there with answers when something like this comes up. The short answer is no, that rule applies on kickoffs and pass receptions, not fumbles.

Stewart, What are the odds that Greg Schiano goes back to Rutgers? I realize he may be eying a bigger college job (Michigan?) or even an NFL job, but Kyle Flood is definitely not bringing the Scarlet Knights to the promised land anytime soon. Since Schiano left, the program is trending down, as evidenced by subpar recruiting and looking clueless against upper-echelon teams. Flood doesn’t have the pedigree to coach in the Big Ten. Most of the fan base would kill to have Schiano back.

 — Joe, Caldwell, New Jersey

Most realistic observers expected Rutgers’ first Big Ten season to play out much the way it has — the Scarlet Knights are 1-4 in conference play and need to beat Indiana at home this week to get bowl-eligible.But I don’t disagree about Flood. He’s always seemed a bit in over his head. The only question is whether AD Julie Hermann would make a move this year or give him another chance knowing the hurdles he faced making this transition. The fact she just gave him a two-year contract extension earlier this season that doubled his buyout from $700,000 to $1.4 million would seem to indicate the latter.

As for Schiano … sorry, that’s not going to happen. Schiano had to slog hard to rebuild Rutgers the first time. While he wouldn’t be starting from nearly the same depths now, it’s still unquestionably a project. Rutgers’ athletic department is still mired in debt and dysfunction, which starts with chronic nut job Hermann. It’s trying to compete in a division with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State with nowhere near the same resources. Schiano will presumably be looking for either a school or franchise that’s better equipped to win big, fast.

Also, I’d say it’s not an encouraging sign that he recently sold the house he built near Rutgers Stadium — for a mere $1.35 million. Apparently he didn’t think he’d need it again.

Dear Stewart, love your stuff!! What are the top five things that were read, said or printed in the preseason that have proven to be way off. For example, the Sporting News ranked Oklahoma No. 1 and everyone said their defense would be awesome.  

— Dan, Eugene, Oregon

Well, some doofus completely botched the Pac-12, picking Washington and Stanford to go to New Year’s Six bowls and Arizona to miss a bowl altogether. Making matters worse he lives 15 minutes from the site of the Pac-12 championship game. What an idiot.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to